Monday, June 1, 2009

Superstar Athletes as Role Models

LeBron James is taking some lumps in the media for modeling poor sportsmanship after not shaking hands with opponents following elimination from the NBA Conference Finals.

This is a topic that spawns common questions and heated debate. To the question "are they role models", I say "yes". To the question "are they GOOD role models", I say "yes and no".

Are They Role Models?
In the sense that many look up to them and emulate their behaviors, they are role models. This is not in dispute; superstars have influence.

Are They Good Role Models?
In the sense that most professional athletes (and virtually all superstars) arrived at the pinnacle of their professions through tremendous hard work, focus, and dedication, I think that they all have attributes worthy of modeling. Because many have also been coddled by society and allowed to bend the rules by which the rest of us live, there is a certain prevalence of anti-social behavior among elite athletes. I would hope that our children do not aspire to incorporate similar elements into their own lives.

The bottom line in LeBron's recent actions (not shaking hands and then skipping the post-game press conference) is that those decisions really only hurt him and his marketability as a brand. No one else can really claim to be harmed by his actions (even parents who mistakenly think it is up to celebrity athletes to teach their kids about sportsmanship). Those are decisions that he is wholly entitled to make as he sees fit.

I tend not to be too judgmental about these things. I think we saw LeBron in an emotionally difficult position and he made a bit of an immature decision about how to handle it. It was a minor gaff on an otherwise remarkably clean record of accountability.

And by the way, for any alert parents whose children follow Lebron, this provided an excellent opportunity to teach a child about sportsmanship.


  1. Anonymous6/02/2009

    In my opinion, this is just another example of the media fabricating a story from thin air (reference the recent blogs about the media). It's much easier for the talking heads on 'around the horn' to talk about Lebron not shaking hands than it is to analyze the game. I see players leave the court without shaking hands all the time. Throw in the fact that this was an emotional endng to something Lebron and his teammates have worked toward for 9 months and why would any of them feel like hanging around. The media: can't get sports news without them, can't get sports news with them. RF

  2. Anonymous6/02/2009

    I agree with RF. And on the other side of the coin, did the talking heads/drive-by-media give Lebron James credit for speaking with focus, determination, and good-sportsmanship after the end of each 2008 Olympic game? Granted - the winning circumstances were different than losing a conference final. Nonetheless, he had a lot to "overcome" after the bronze medal in 2004 and three years of preparing for 2008. He could have celebrated his individual achievements after each Olympic game, but he didn't. He focused on what was to come and what they did as a team while respecting and acknowleding his opponents. IMO, for an NBA superstar, it was classy. I don't say that lightly because I don't find it easy to use the "words" NBA and classy in the same sentence.

  3. Anonymous6/02/2009

    Boo Hoo, Tell Lebron James to suck it up and go shake a hand. Even the Bruins / Carolina (that's hockey) players all shook hands after a very physical series. (some pretty big fights with injuries)
    RF is just jealous he is not one of those talking heads on TV rambling on about most things trivial pulling in a cool Million/ year.
    Either that or he is just pouting cause his budding basketball career was shuttered when he broke his toe falling into a pool (and was put in a full body cast for 6 months).

  4. Anonymous6/03/2009

    Lurking...lurking....nothing to add... but this is getting good...JD

  5. Anonymous6/05/2009

    And I think anonymous (Boo Hoo) is jealous because you are not a guest blogger on WWDS. Hence the biting comments where you live vicariously through yourself. RF